And as you reap the harvest of your land, do not finish off the corner of your field as you reap, and do not gather the gleaning of your harvest. You shall leave them for the poor and for the stranger; I am the Eternal, your God.

(Lev. 23:22)

Our parashah focuses so much on the issues of tum’ah and taharah (“impurity” and “purity,” for lack of better terms) of the priests. Chapter 21 discusses for whom a priest may make himself tamei by tending to their burial, and who they may marry. The Torah goes into such detail while adjuring priests to avoid all unnecessary sources of tum’ah so that they may serve in the Temple in the required state of purity! Even issues that are unconnected to tum’ah may keep a priest out of service, such as injury, or blindness, or other physical disability, mirroring the blemishes that disqualify an animal for sacrifice. 

What do we make of this? And how can this connect to the fact that the mitzvah to leave peah, the charitable giving of the corner one’s field, for the poor? What do we make of the mention of the Shalosh Regalim, the three pilgrimage holidays of Pesach, Shavuot, and Sukkot?

The Torah here describes an ideal of Divine service being done in a state of purity, and by people without ritual or physical blemish. Becoming free of blemish or tum’ah is a prerequisite for entering the Temple space and for bringing sacrifices. Purification is preparation. We see, though, that while the priests must be in the highest state of taharah, purity, to serve God in the holy spaces, ultimately, all of the Jewish people are required to serve God. 

The priests are a model, a symbol, of spiritual purity and divine service. They serve as a ritual guidepost for the general Israelite public. The average Jew is also required to live in a holy way. As was taught in last week’s parashah, that involves a mix of ritual/spiritual obligations and moral/ethical obligations. 

As some of my students at Levey pointed out, there is an aspect of bein adam lechavero (commandments of an interpersonal nature) in every mitzvah bein adam lemakom (commandment dictating behavior between a human being and God), and vice versa. By honoring our parents, or by giving tzedakkah, we are carrying out a mitzvah, and therefore serving God. Similarly, by observing Shabbat, we connect more fully with those closest to us.

At the end of this week’s parashah, we are told what sacrifices to bring on the Shalosh Regalim, and we are told, in the middle of this, to leave peah for the poor. Rashi brings a Midrash of Rav Avdimi on the verse commanding Peah here explaining why that commandment is placed where it is placed in the text:

To teach us that anyone who properly gives gleanings, forgotten crops, and pe’ah to the poor, it is as if that person built the Temple and offered sacrifices in it.

A life of kedushah, of holiness, is one in which the moral and the spiritual are intertwined. The Torah is our way of accomplishing that. Let us all increase our commitments to living with kedushah.

Shabbat Shalom!

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